Villanova is the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Champion.
A week has passed since Kris Jenkins made the shot heard around the world. Even with a week and a day to think about the game, it is near impossible to put into words what this means to me and Villanova.
First of all, as a Senior, this is absolutely unbelievable. Looking back on my four years, during which I can now say I never missed a home game, this team has had quite a ride.
At the first game of the year in November 2012, there were about three rows of students in an otherwise pathetically empty Pavilion. The next week, a student manager of the team got up in front of my history class to beg us to attend the next game which was on ESPN.
Any excitement he drew up was quickly fizzled away when we lost to Columbia by 18 points in the Pavilion. That day was the nadir of Villanova basketball, which also meant the program could only go up. There were certainly highs to that season as well (who could forget that fateful week in January when we stormed the court twice after back-to-back top 5 upsets?) but in the end Villanova squeaked into the NCAA tournament as a 9-seed, losing in the first round to North Carolina (more about them later).
My sophomore and junior seasons were much the same: after dominating the “new” Big East during the regular season, Villanova was rewarded with a top seed but squandered their chances at a deep run with an upset in the second round. ESPN would be sure to not let us forget these early exits.
This year, Villanova was determined to exorcise its demons of past mistakes in a season-long tour of vengeance and validation. When the dust cleared, Jay Wright was able to declare that this senior class was the winningest in program history—and that was in February.
Then came March. After a third consecutive Big East regular season title, Villanova lost in the Big East championship game to a scrappy yet surging Seton Hall squad. The loss left more than a bad taste in the collective mouths of Villanova entering the NCAA tournament: it relegated the team down to the worst 2 seed and left everyone from ESPN experts to casual bracketologists counting this team out of the Sweet 16. Not to be deterred, Villanova embarked on a legendary and awe-inspiring series of destruction, beating UNC-Asheville, Iowa, and Miami all by enough to send in the Bench Mob by the final minutes in each game.
Then, there were eight, and it was time to play the tournament’s overall #1 seed in Kansas. The same Kansas which has won the Big 12 each of the past twelve years and had not lost in 2016 since January. The Kansas of Dr. James Naismith, Perry Ellis, Bill Self, Wayne Selden Jr. and Frank Mason III. The upset was shocking to some, but validating to us.
Next, Villanova found itself in Houston ready to crash another ESPN dream. Internet and television outlets were flooded with graphs and articles explaining how no one could stop Buddy Hield. The victory over Oklahoma became the biggest blowout in Final Four history, by ten points.
Villanova was now one win away from immortality, but standing in the way was yet another top-ranked team in North Carolina. The script was more than Hollywood; it was biblical. On that Monday night, we witnessed a clash between good and evil, fought not in Heaven but in Houston.
Villanova could be said to embody all that is still good about college basketball: true student-athlete amateurs led by dedicated senior leaders and a coach concerned with respect above all else. Humble and hungry their motto. The underdog counted out time and again with one final battle against possibly the biggest goliath of all.
North Carolina, on the other hand, stood as a perversion of college basketball. Shamed by a scandal in which its athletes refused to be students, the Tar Heels also rank fourth among schools with the most one-and-dones. Arrogant from the coach downwards, North Carolina was hoping for one more banner before the NCAA surely punishes them in the near future. The game itself played out like a staged drama as well: though down (and almost out) by halftime, Villanova surged ahead to a remarkable ten point lead with only minutes to go before squandering every last ounce of lead.
Tied with 4.7 seconds left, everything about that last play seemed to reflect Villanova basketball. Daniel Ochefu, mopping up the floor himself, was the personification of humility; and then Ryan Arcidiacono passed the ball and immortal glory for himself to his teammate because it was for the ultimate good of the team.
And what a good it was: Jenkins’ perfectly smooth shot seemed to hang in frozen time, until it came crashing down into sweet mayhem. Exhausted on the court of battle, these few Villanovans accomplished the most herculean of feats despite everything stacked against them.
The impact of this national championship cannot be exaggerated. In 1985, Villanova joined an elite group of colleges that could claim an NCAA mens basketball national championship. Now that the Main Line will be lifting a second banner, Villanova has jumped into an even more exclusive club. We have surpassed dominant programs like Syracuse and Georgetown in the number of championships won, joined Michigan State with two, and now have only one less than mighty Kansas.
Furthermore, Villanova became the first non-football school to win the National Championship in the 21st century. The crown of college basketball is back at a school where basketball is king.
Unlike the legendary 1985 team, this team has pegged Villanova all the more prominently to the college basketball map because this 2016 team can very well claim one of the most dominant March runs ever. Just look at the numbers: only one team (Kentucky 1996) has won an NCAA championship by a larger total margin of victory than Villanova’s +124 total. Furthermore, this team was dominant even while playing the second-toughest path to the championship ever (Villanova’s opponents seeds added up to 29, behind only UConn’s 2014 run).
In other words, this 2016 National Championship was more than I could have ever dreamed of. Ending my four years of student fandom with an exclamation of validation and total victory, after years of heckling and disappointment, is an ending only Hollywood could write. In this way, I felt like this whole month has been a living dream, only to be awoken when I see those words: Villanova is your 2016 NCAA National Champion.